I hate cars. The exhaust kills over 4000 people in London every year. They hit my friends in school. I was separated from my school and friends by the A406. The M11 link road cut through East London despite the protests against it.
But when I started regularly moving a hundred kilos of steel, wood and propane around, I thought I could just about justify buying one. But it had to be the most sensible and practical one possible. After the inevitable hundred hours of unnecessarily deep research later (I did not need to learn the difference between naturally aspirated and turbo-charged engines), I bought a second hand 2016 Ford Grand Tourneo Connect. I’ve had it for over a year now, and I think I made a good decision. I shall list out the reasons why here.
It’s a van
The primary reason for buying a vehicle was being able to move things around to make big bits of fire art. The Tourneo is a range of “van-based MPVs” - which means it re-uses the same body as the UK’s most popular van range, the Ford Transit, with the interior and seats to make it a car. The Torneo Connect is a Transit Connect, the Tourneo Custom is a Transit Custom.
This leads to a car that is boxy and practical, but with 7 seats in it. Take the seats out and you essentially have the van it was based on. And unlike most other MPVs, in the 2016 Tourneo Custom you can lay all 5 rear seats down in place within a couple of minutes to create a flat bed.
This is big enough that Murmuration fills only half the space in the car. You can roll bikes upright into it. Long bits of timber are no problem.
It’s not a van
Even though it the same shape and size as its van counterpart, it is not legally a van. The main advantage of this is in insurance. Commercial vans get broken into a lot for the tools they might contain, especially where I live. For sitting on my road in Leyton, the first year of insurance for my Tourneo Connect cost about £500. For a Transit Connect that would have been £2000.
There are some other small advantages of not being a van, such as being considerably less likely to be stopped at customs when crossing borders.
It’s a campervan
OK, that’s not really true by most people’s definition. All of the burner and co-created hippy events I go to tend to have communal kitchens, have access to toilets and showers, and happen in the summer. So my setup doesn’t need a cooker, toilet or insulation.
I have bought a set of cut-to-size insulated window blinds, a thin mattress from ikea, a kingsized warm duvet, some LED fairy lights and a Jetboil for making tea and I have everything I need to be a very happy camper.
It’s not a campervan
Same deal here: it’s not technically, nor looks like, a campervan, so I’ve been able to camp in car parks instead of dedicated camper pitches at festivals.
This has nothing to do with the model of the car, but I got an automatic gearbox. This outs me as ‘not a car person’, but it’s just so much more relaxing to drive without worrying about gears or stalling. I don’t understand why they haven’t been the default in the UK the last decade, but it is increasing.
It’s ULEZ compliant
2016 is, generally speaking, the oldest (and therefore cheapest) diesel engines you can buy that will meet Euro 6 emissions standards, and therefore be compliant with London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which I live within. I probably drive it infrequently enough that even with the £12.50 daily charge it would technically be cheaper to buy an older more polluting car, but that doesn’t really feel in the spirit of a law I am supportive of it’s aims.
Why not an electric car/van?
Obviously an electric car would be automatic and ULEZ compliant by default. However, I’m not using it for commuting or regular, short trips in urban environments. My irregular trips are usually hundreds of miles each. I’m not sure that buying a new electric van with the appropriate capacity makes sense environmentally, and it definitely doesn’t make sense in terms of price and convenience.
Some of the competition
In the MPV van/car/microcamper space, the dominant name is the Citroen Berlingo. There is a large community behind this car, who love its practicality and turning it into a microcamper. However, prior to 2019 there was only a 5 seater that is a bit shorter in length, so it is equivelent to the (non-Grand) Ford Tourneo Connect, rather than my 7 seater Ford Grand Tourneo Connect. In 2019, they introduced the 7 seater Berlingo XL, but that was too recent to have had some reasonably priced second hand versions. Also the rear seats do not fold into a flat bed, a feature I don’t think I’d want to go without now. There is, however, now an electric version of this car, so that and the large community may appeal if you have different needs to me.
The other main competitor is the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life. The Caddy is the smaller and less famous version of the Transporter. It ticks all of the same boxes as the the Ford, except it is more expensive because it is a Volkswagen. Also, again, the seats don’t fold into a flat bed.
In fact the Caddy and the Tourneo Connect are targeting such similar markets, that Ford and Volkswagen have made a deal to just make one car between them. Since 2022, the two cars are near identical, with different badges on them. I think they’re a downgrade to their predecessors, so to get my pick look for a 2016-2021 model.
- Car from Gate of Woodford Ford Dealership: £15,000
- First year insurance, 3 drivers, Leyton, comprehensive: £508.84
- Second year insurance: £701
- Waltham Forest Resident Permit: £60 per year
- Vehicle tax: £135.00 per year
- MOT, service and tires: £350
- RAC: £88 per year
Life as a car owner
I am a high earner, and I have done this in the most practical and sensible way possible, but this still feels like one of the most decadent things I have ever done.
But I do love this car. All of my research has paid off and my plans have come true. The car regularly succeeds at moving large objects, be a comfy camper and move 7 people around. There’s nothing it has struggled with so far. I share it with 2 other people, and regularly lend it out to friends and local community groups to use. I’ve even grown to enjoy driving, and although I’m sure other cars are faster or more nimble, I had plenty of fun driving through the Pyrenees in this car fully loaded with cargo, and kept up with all the other cars. It was possibly more exhilarating too! 😅
My one car-owner guilty pleasure habit I have picked up is a fortnightly drive to my local Waitrose to do a big shop. I pretend it’s something about keeping the engine ticking over and healthy between long trips, but picking up lots of treats from Waitrose instead of online groceries or my local Leyton Asda is a decadence I don’t want to give up now.
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